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Context of 'Before February 7, 2005: Canadian Government Will Propose Lifting of De Facto Ban on Terminator Seeds'

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At the fifth meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), member countries adopt a recommendation not to approve field testing or commercialization of GURTs, also known as terminator technology, until additional scientific research has been done. The recommendation, submitted by the Convention’s Scientific Advisory Body (SBSTTA) (see June 15, 1999-June 21, 1999), also say countries should have the option to ban the technologies at the national-level if they so choose. Delegates from several of the non-industrialized countries and a number of civil society organizations are disappointed with the COP 5 decision. They wanted a complete and immediate permanent international ban on the technology because of the potentially devastating effect the technology could have on the food security and agricultural biodiversity. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/16/2000] For example, the African Group’s statement calls on all countries to “immediately ban the terminator technology from respective national territories and thus, from the whole of Africa, as intolerable politically, economically and ethically and in terms of safety of plant life, and in the future, be constantly on the look out for unacceptable products of biotechnology.” [Biodiversity Convention African Group, 5/2000] Other parties calling for a complete ban on terminator technology include Kenya, the Philippines, India, Tanzania, and Malawi. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/16/2000] Many countries, including most of the G77 (with the exception of Argentina) and China, though not calling for an immediate ban, nonetheless agree that GURT is a very serious issue. Noting the heavy reliance on subsistence farming of farmers in their respective countries, they say in a statement, “[W]e feel very strongly on the GURTs issue, as they may impact negatively on our agricultural biodiversity.” [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/16/2000] It is also noted at the meeting that portions of the SBSTTA decision are outdated. For example, the SBSTTA in making its recommendation the previous year assumed that GURTs were “not likely to be commercialized in the near future and that at this time no example of the technology has been released in either research or investigative field trial.” This can no longer be said, according to Rural Advancement Foundation International, whose monitoring of the industry has revealed that seven new terminator patents were issued to industry and public sector researchers in 1999 and that biotech company AstraZeneca has already conducted field trials on genetic trait control technology in Britain. [Rural Advancement Foundation International, 6/16/2000] The final text of the GURTs portion of the COP5 decision reads: “[I]n the current absence of reliable data on genetic use restriction technologies without which there is an inadequate basis on which to assess their potential risks, and in accordance with the precautionary approach, products incorporating such technologies should not be approved by Parties for field testing until appropriate scientific data can justify such testing, and for commercial use until appropriate, authorized and strictly controlled scientific assessments with regard to, inter alia, their ecological and socio-economic impacts and any adverse effects for biological diversity, food security and human health have been carried out in a transparent manner and the conditions for their safe and beneficial use validated. In order to enhance the capacity of all countries to address these issues, Parties should widely disseminate information on scientific assessments, including through the clearing-house mechanism, and share their expertise in this regard.” [Convention on Biodiversity, 5/2000]

Entity Tags: Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Berkeley grad student David Quist and Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a microbial ecologist, publish the results of a study (see October 2000) finding that native Mexican maize has been contaminated with genetically modified genes. The study—published by the British journal Nature after an eight-month long peer-review process—presents two arguments. In addition to reporting the discovery that some of Oaxaca’s maize contains transgenic material, the paper says they found transgene fragments scattered throughout the plants’ modified DNA. [Quist and Chapela, 11/29/2001 pdf file] The study’s second conclusion causes a controversy because it contradicts the assertions of the biotech industry that genetic engineering is a safe and exact science, and that the technology is capable of controlling precisely where the modified sequences are positioned, how they will be expressed, and whether or not they will be passed on to successive generations. One of the main arguments of the technology’s detractors is that the methods used to insert trangenic genes into an organism’s DNA cannot be done with accuracy and therefore are liable to produce unpredictable and undesirable effects. Following the publication of Quist and Chapela’s article, other Berkeley biologists—who work in a Berkeley University program partially funded by Syngenta, a major biotech firm—criticize the study, leading Quist and Chapela to acknowledge that the analyses of two of the eight gene sequences in their paper were flawed. However they stand by their conclusions that the remaining six sequences contained scattered modified gene sequences. Critics of the article also note that both Quist and Chapela strongly oppose the genetic engineering of crops and participated in an unsuccessful effort to block the Berkeley-Syngenta partnership. The issue soon grows into a very large controversy that some suggest is fueled by the efforts of the biotech industry, and in particular, the Bivings Group, a PR firm on Monsanto’s payroll. Forum postings at AgBioWorld.org are reportedly traced to a Bivings’ employee. It is also noted that another person posting on the forum makes “frequent reference to the Center for Food and Agricultural Research, an entity that appears to exist only online and whose domain is [allegedly] registered to a Bivings employee.” Bivings denies that it is in any way connected to the forum postings. In spite of the controversy surrounding the article’s second finding, the other conclusion, that Mexico’s maize has been contaminated, is largely uncontested, and is buttressed by at least three other studies (see January 2002; February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/4/2002; East Bay Express, 5/29/2002; BBC, 6/2/2002; Mother Jones, 7/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Bivings Group, David Quist, Ignacio Chapela, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources

Timeline Tags: Seeds

During a Defense Department news briefing on Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says: “We know that they were a lot closer than any of the experts had estimated they would be with respect to [developing] a nuclear weapon. To the extent that they have kept their nuclear scientists together and working on these efforts, one has to assume they’ve not been playing tiddlywinks.” [US Department of Defense, 9/3/2002; Associated Press, 9/3/2002; United Press International, 9/3/2002]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) completes an analysis on the implications of genetic use restriction technology (GURT) for small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities. The paper was requested the previous year by member governments of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. In its 6-page memorandum, UPOV says it believes that using GURTs as a means to protect intellectual property would be less advantageous for society than implementing Plant Breeders’ Rights legislation based on UPOV’s 1991 Act of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (see December 19, 2002). UPOV notes that unlike GURT, its 1991 convention has provisions that allow farmers to save seeds; set a time-limit (20 years) on a breeder’s exclusive rights; and permit farmers, researchers, and breeders to breed protected seeds when it is done privately, for non-commercial or experimental purposes, and when it is done to breed new varieties. Furthermore, under GURT, there is “no provision for public interest, allowing government access to varieties under particular circumstances,” as there is in the UPOV’s convention. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1/10/2003 pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003]

Entity Tags: International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants

Timeline Tags: Seeds

An ad hoc expert panel created by the sixth conference of the Biodiversity Convention convenes in Montreal to consider the impact that genetic use restriction technology (GURT), also known as terminator technology, would have on small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities. The expert panel hears from 11 groups including the US, Canada, two individual farmers, an indigenous rights group, four civil society organizations, the International Seed Federation, and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). [Collins and Krueger, n.d. pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003; Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file] The paper presented by UPOV, completed in January (see January 10, 2003), is not well-received by the US or industry representatives. Though the UPOV is generally an ardent supporter of intellectual rights protections, its analysis argues that GURT technology could threaten the interests of small farmers. The paper is so unwelcome, in fact, that the US and the International Seed Federation will succeed in pressuring the UPOV to revise it (see March 13, 2003-April 11, 2003), eliminating all references to GURT from the body of the paper. Prepared by Monsanto’s Roger Krueger and Harry Collins of Delta & Pine Land (D&PL), the International Seed Federation’s analysis takes the position that GURT technology would be advantageous for small farmers. Their paper argues that GURT would benefit small farmers and indigenous peoples by providing them with more options. “The International Seed Federation (ISF) believes that GURTs have the potential to benefit farmers and others in all size, economic and geographical areas… In reality, the potential effects of the GURTs may be beneficial to small farmers… ,” the paper asserts. “It is the strong belief and position of the ISF that GURTs would potentially provide more choice, to the farmers, rather than less choice.” Kruefer and Collins also say the technology could be used to prevent the contamination of non-transgenic plants with genetically modified genes and thus could be “quite positive for the environment and biodiversity.” [Collins and Krueger, n.d. pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003; Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file] The expert panel’s final report will list 35 “potential negative impacts” of GURT on small farmers and local communities and only nine “potential positive impacts.” It will recommend, among other things, “that parties and other governments consider the development of regulatory frameworks not to approve GURTs for field-testing and commercial use.” [Convention on Biological Diversity, 9/29/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: International Seed Federation, International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, Roger Krueger, Harry B. Collins

Timeline Tags: Seeds

On March 13, Lois Boland, administrator for external affairs at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), sends a letter to UPOV Vice-Secretary General Rolf Jordens asking him to withdraw UPOV’s analysis on genetic use restriction technology (GURT) (see January 10, 2003). The analysis, presented in February to an expert panel convened by the Biodiversity Convention (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003), argued that GURT would not serve the interests of farmers or the public. In her letter, Boland complains that the UPOV Council did not allow the US to see the analysis before it was presented. “Even more troubling,” she adds, “the document submitted to the CBD is not a neutral presentation of facts and prevailing opinions; instead, it represents a one-sided negative view of GURTs.” In light of these concerns, she asks that the memo be discussed at the next scheduled meeting of UPOV’s Administrative and Legal Committee on April 10, 2003. [US Patent and Trademark Office, 3/13/2003 pdf file] In response, Jordens suggests that the matter be considered by UPOV’s Consultative Committee instead. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 3/17/2003 pdf file] Boland replies that that would not be acceptable and insists that it be debated in the Administrative and Legal Committee. [US Patent and Trademark Office, 3/28/2003 pdf file] Jordens gives in. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 3/17/2003 pdf file] On March 31, Secretary-General of the International Seed Federation Bernard Le Buanec also voices concerns about the UPOV analysis, writing in a letter that the federation “is really concerned by the memorandum, as it presents a variety of unbalanced views.” [International Seed Federation, 3/31/2003 pdf file] On April 10, the UPOV memo is debated in the Administrative and Legal Committee. Under pressure from the US, the UPOV agrees to say that it is not a “competent body to provide advice to CBD on GURTs.” A new version of the memo is posted on the UPOV’s website the next day with the following explanation: “This document supersedes the memorandum prepared by the Office of the Union on the genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs) and sent to the CBD, dated January 10, 2003.” The new version deletes all references to GURT from the body of the document. As such, the new document makes no attempt to respond to the Biodiversity Convention’s original request for analysis of GURT. [Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1/10/2003 pdf file; ETC Group, 4/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Rolf Jördens, Lois Boland, International Seed Federation, International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Seeds

At the ninth meeting of the Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (SBSTTA), held in Montreal, four countries—Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, and Brazil—convince the body to submit a recommendation to the next meeting of the Biodiversity Convention to forego action on an expert panel report. They argued that the report was flawed because it lacked scientific rigor. The report—commissioned by members of the Biodiversity Convention in late 2002—had identified numerous potential negative impacts that terminator technology could have on small farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003). If the member countries of the Biodiversity Convention, scheduled to meet in February 2004, accepts the SBSTTA’s recommendation to forego action, the issue will not be considered again until 2006. “SBSTTA9’s decision is wrong and dangerous,” says Alejandro Argumedo of the Indigenous Peoples Biodiversity Network. “Giving four governments the right to derail a report on the impact of terminator on indigenous peoples and local communities is like saying that the voices of these communities are not important, and that the social and economic impacts of terminator can be dismissed.” The ETC Group, a Canadian-based organization that opposes terminator technology, suggests that the presence of representatives from biotech firms Monsanto and Delta & Pine Land may have had something to do with the four countries’ objection to the expert panel report. The organization notes that industry representatives from these very same companies had been involved in the expert panel discussion and had submitted a report insisting that GURT technologies would benefit small farmers and indigenous peoples by providing them with “more choice.” Both Monsanto and Delta & Pine Land have patents on GURT technology. [Convention on Biodiversity, 11/14/2003; ETC Group, 11/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Canada, Harry B. Collins, Roger Krueger, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil

Timeline Tags: Seeds

The Canadian government instructs its negotiators at the Bangkok meeting of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity’s Scientific Body to push for changes to a 2004 UN report (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003) that is critical of terminator technology. The report concluded that terminator seeds could result in a number of negative consequences for small farmers, indigenous peoples, and small communities. It recommended that the Convention prohibit field testing and commercialization of terminator seeds. Canada tells its negotiators to propose that the Scientific Body recommend the opposite—that countries be permitted to field test and commercialize the seeds. If these proposals are not accepted, Canada says its representatives should “block consensus on the issue.” The instructions will be leaked to attendees on the first day of the conference. [ETC Group, 2/26/2004; Guardian, 2/9/2005; Ottawa Citizen, 3/5/2006]

Entity Tags: Canada

Timeline Tags: Seeds

At the tenth meeting of the Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Bangkok, the Canadian delegation proposes that the Scientific Body recommend lifting the de facto ban on field trials and commercialization of terminator seeds and encourage research participation of private sector entities. Terminator technology is opposed by most non-industrialized countries and a number of organizations that advocate for farmers’ rights and food security. Many of these parties learned of Canada’s intention to oppose the ban before the meeting from a leaked Canadian government memo (see Before February 7, 2005). In the memo, Canada had instructed its delegates to block consensus on the issue if countries refused to lift the ban. Canada’s proposal is nonetheless shot down by delegates from Norway, Sweden, Austria, the European Community, Cuba, Peru, and Liberia. The Scientific Body agrees to recommend that CBD members should reaffirm the de facto ban (see May 15-May 26, 2000) on field testing and commercialization of terminator seeds. This recommendation, along with those in a 2004 UN report (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003) and the future recommendations of the “Working Group on Article 8(j)” (see September 3, 2002), will be submitted for consideration at the next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in March 2006. [ETC Group, 2/26/2004; Convention on Biodiversity, 2/11/2005; Inter Press Service, 2/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Speaking at the tenth meeting of the Scientific Body of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (SBSTTA), held in Bangkok, Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser criticizes his government’s backing (see February 7, 2005) of terminator technology. “The Canadian government has acted shamefully. It is supporting a dangerous, anti-farmer technology that aims to eliminate the rights of farmers to save and re-use harvested seed,” he says. “Instead of representing the good will of the Canadian people or attending to the best interests of the Biodiversity Treaty, the Canadian government is fronting for the multinational gene giants who stand to win enormous profits from the release of terminator seeds around the world.” [ETC Group, 2/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Percy Schmeiser, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice

Timeline Tags: Seeds

At a UN meeting in Granada, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s “Working Group on Article 8(j)” meets ahead of the Convention’s eighth biennial meeting to discuss implementation of Article 8(j) and related provisions of the Convention, as requested by the seventh conference of the Convention that took place in 2004 in Kuala Lumpur. [Convention on Biodiversity, 2/20/2004] Article 8(j) of the convention calls on member countries to protect the traditional knowledge, innovation, and practices of indigenous peoples and peasant farmers. One of the group’s tasks is to “consider the potential socio-economic impacts of genetic use restriction technologies on indigenous and local communities” and make a recommendation based on three previous UN reports (see February 19, 2003-February 21, 2003; February 7, 2005; September 26, 2000-September 28, 2000) and official submissions from indigenous peoples and farmers’ organizations (see September 26, 2005-September 27, 2005). In every one of these reports, terminator technology was considered a threat to the poor. In spite of this, the Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian governments, guided by a US representative (the US has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity) and industry lobbyists, push to make the Working Group’s recommendations supportive of terminator technology. Lobbyists for the seed companies include Harry Collins, vice president of Delta & Pine Land, and Roger Krueger of Monsanto. Delta & Pine Land jointly holds three patents on terminator technology with the US Department of Agriculture. According to the ETC Group, a Canadian-based organization opposed to terminator seeds whose representatives are present at this meeting, “With a US government official consulting at her side, the Australian negotiator insisted on deleting reference to the ‘precautionary approach’ and used this as a bargaining chip to win controversial wording for a ‘case-by-case risk assessment’ of terminator.” However, the efforts of these countries to draft a recommendation that would weaken the moratorium on terminator seeds are opposed by the majority of other parties, including Spain, the African Group, Egypt, the Philippines, Norway, Pakistan, Kenya, India, and Brazil. [ETC Group, 1/27/2006; National Farmers Union, 1/27/2006; Canadian Press, 1/30/2006] Australia refuses to budge and it is finally agreed to revise the recommendation to say that further research on terminator technology should include “a case-by-case risk assessment basis with respect to different categories of GURTs technology subject to the precautionary approach.” [Convention on Biodiversity, 1/27/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Brazil, Working Group on Article 8(j), Australia, Canada, Harry B. Collins, New Zealand, Spain, Philippines, India, Kenya, Norway, Pakistan, Roger Krueger, Egypt

Timeline Tags: Seeds


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